Anthony Donskov

Anthony Donskov is the founder of DSC where he serves as the Director of Sport Performance. Donskov holds a Masters Degree in Exercise Science & is the author of Physical Preparation for Ice Hockey.

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3 Strength and Conditioning Lessons from the Real World

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In school we do what we are taught, in the real world…we do what works.  Today there are countless resources at the disposal of the strength and conditioning practitioner.  Books, DVD’s, lecture series, podcasts and programming manuals all designed with the coach in mind.  Through countless hours of education and enough coffee to kill a small farm animal I have found that many times the real world can be the best teacher of all.  You can have all the scientific reasoning, research and peer reviewed literature behind your program, but if you don’t have the time, resources and athletes’ to carry out your plan, your results will be dead in the water.  Through trail and error, here are three lessons the real word has exposed to me with regards to program design that cannot be found in the pages of a book. 

Movement:  One of our programming principals at DSC is called cause and effect.  In other words a push is paired with a pull, a knee dominant with a hip dominant.  Here is how we used to set up three day a week programs at DSC in terms of movement.

3 Day/Week:

Day 1.) Knee Dominant, Vertical Pull.

Day 2.) Horizontal Push, Horizontal Pull.

Day 3.) Hip Dominant, Vertical Push.

The problem arises when an athlete/customer travels, has work commitments, is sick, goes on vacation or misses workouts for various other reasons.  We may get through the week without taxing each and every movement.  The “real world” has changed our 3-day program into three full body days of lifting taxing each and every movement.  We may have different sequencing and volume, but the body of the workout is three full body lifts.

De-Load:  There are a million and one ways to de-load.  Here are a few:

  • Keep intensity high and reduce reps (we normally reduce reps by 40%.) You are much more likely to have DOMS and impaired recovery ability with excess volume as opposed to intensity.
  • Reduce overall intensity and promote systemic blood flow.  This can aid in tissue recovery/regeneration.
  • Active Recovery:  Planned regeneration work to promote parasympathetic tone.  Cardiac output work to promote recovery.
  • Complete Recovery.
  • De-Load week:  In a four week block, the last block may be a de-load week used for regeneration by incorporating reduction in volume or intensity.
  • Taper:  Two-week taper used or power conversion phase using sports specific protocol, high CNS activity with minimal volume.  Keeping the athlete fresh and explosive.

The real world has taught me that 95% of the time I don’t need to program de-loads.  Our summer program is 12 weeks in length and I can count on one hand how many athletes attend all 48 sessions.  Young athletes go on vacation, get sick, attend hockey schools, travel, attend training camps and have other obligations that may prevent them from attending each and every session.  This timeline, coupled with training age allows the de-load to be built into the program without altering content, volume, intensity and results.

Concurrent Periodization:  Any time an individual walks in looking to perform better, we as coaches ask the following questions:

  • How long do we have to work with the athlete?
  • What is the training age of the athlete?
  • Are there any orthopedic issues that need to be considered when programming? (Screening etc.)
  • What are the demands of the sport?
  • What are the “performance limiting factors”? (Performance testing)
  • What does the competition calendar look like?

Based on the above criteria, a very large demographic of our athletes are trained using a concurrent model (the programming of multiple motor abilities at once).  In other words, speed, power, strength, and endurance (aerobic/anaerobic) etc. are trained each session.  This model has served our hockey populations and youth athletes extremely well.  Quite frankly, I don’t see this changing anytime soon.  Here’s why:

  • Program length:  We are expected to provide maximal results in minimal time.  Our ADP programs are 12 weeks in length (minus vacation, Holidays, sickness).  We don’t get a lot of time with our athletes. 
  • Training Age:  The majority of our population is youth athletes with minimal training age.  In fact we have found that even our “elite level” hockey players would be considered novices in the weight room (3-4 years training age). 
  • Competition Calendar:  Hockey players have a 50+ game competition calendar running from late August-April.  Not including practice time, this is a ton of cumulative stress.  In addition, the law of competing demands makes it extremely difficult to use a Block periodization approach in team sports. 

I love reading Eastern European training models, block periodization planning and other sequential models used to elicit sporting development.  However many of these models are used by ELITE athletes training in a quadrennial cycle.  In fact many of the periodization models have been crafted using Olympic weightlifting, swimming, and track and field events.  The real world has taught me that although these may be very effective, they are not practical based on resources, time and commitment levels. 

Each situation is different for each and every coach.  Books, DVD’s and various educational content are all important for personal and professional growth, but it needs to be filtered for EACH and EVERY situation.  In the real world…do what works, many times that may be what we aren’t taught! 

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